A tale of two SCV restaurants: Crepissima/California Poké & BobaSean Malin June 23, 2019 0 COMMENTS
As we make our way into another ever-more-sweltering Santa Clarita summer, it is worth noting an auspicious coincidence: the openings in the last four months of two new restaurants not far from one another, physically or existentially.
The strip-mall on the corner of Soledad and Bouquet, a location with such frequent turn-over of its tenants that it’s become something of a game to see what new businesses have arrived that week, has since March been the new home of California Poké & Boba. If you are familiar with the casual poké bowl craze, you can likely conjure the look and feel of the space as it really is without ever visiting.
To the left of the entrance, a row of small two and four-seat tables line a wooded monochrome wall; to the right, a glass-lined, cafeteria-style countertop leads you through an aquarium of raw fish, fresh vegetables and small lakes of multicolor sauce. Two employees stand behind the glass and the register at front, one to help you design your bowl (small [one base plus two proteins, $9.25], medium [one-and-a-half bases plus three proteins, $11.25] or large [two bases plus four proteins, $13.25) while the other directs customers in need to the restroom at the end of the hallway.
The food is made quickly, and the transactions made even faster – so why is dining there such a stultifying experience?
The answer, I think, lies not in the restaurant itself but in its aspirations: to bring exotic raw fish salads, once an item of luxury for Hawaiian vacations, to the masses of suburban Santa Clarita and in the process cash in on the growing taste for them here.
This business strategy is lazy at best and mercenary at worst, a craven effort to join the trend-of-the-moment without giving much thought to such issues as quality, aesthetics or affordability. To be clear, California Poké & Boba is not a bad restaurant. Its specialty sauces, such as its house blend of mayonnaise, spicy sauce and sweet sauce, and its “Valencia Sauce”, a mixture of soy sauce, canola oil, mustard seed, wheat and soybeans, are inventive and tasty. And in a large size bowl with scallops, spicy tuna and salmon, the fish is fresh and flavorful, chilled appropriately and almost beautiful.
Paired with a toothsome and pleasantly gritty taro milkshake with boba, this poké has the capacity to hit all the correct notes.
What ultimately feels exhausting is the inevitable déjà vu of a meal there, the inescapable sense that you’re eating precisely what you’ve eaten before in precisely the same spot, even if this is your first visit. Then there are the “proteins”, which make the seafood sound like the bug cubes from Snowpiercer and are scooped in aggressively regimented proportions into the bowl. If one should request sesame seeds with their meal, two cautious pats will be made to the container. Be prepared to pay an unnecessary premium if you arrive particularly hungry.
To eat at California Poké & Boba is therefore to conscientiously embrace mediocrity over joy, easy comfort over discovery. Life is too short.
Compare this experience to a meal at Crepissima, newly launched in a Newhall shopping center off Rye Canyon Rd.
The layout is not dissimilar to California Poké & Boba’s (table-lined walls, glassed-off countertop, two employees behind the bar) – and neither are its ambitions. Crepissima, too, offers as its central dish a food once associated with the exotic and the international, but now available to the common man at speed. It, too, arrives on the trendy crepe wave currently sweeping through the SCV (and beyond).
Yet Crepissima, bless it, has in spades what might otherwise promise a bright future for its cross-town colleague: personality. Its delightful menu draws from a diversity of sources, fusing Spanish, French, Italian and pan-American recipes into its dishes. Given that its soft opening was as recently as February, it may seem like a risk to plan, say, a work lunch here until it has its act together. Never fear: so far, none of several personal meals there since it opened have been less than terrific.
Among my favorites is the delicate and beautiful GePe Crepe ($9.50), an unusually balanced savory pancake named for the husbands of Crepissima’s proprietors. The evergreen spinach crepe comes topped with a pesto-style morron pepper sauce strewn with sour cream that cuts through its spicy pesto bite, and filled with vegetables and imitation crab. The GePe is light and airy, but plated large, so that it nearly suffices as a meal by itself.
Alas, a truly full meal here inevitably must include a sugary crepe, as this is where Crepissima excels. A smaller appetite will be pleased with suggest a Guava Cheese Crepe ($6.50), which mixes guava jelly with a velvety vanilla dessert cheese and powdered sugar in a fine example of the value in minimalism. (Try pairing this as a dessert with spicy Hong Kong-style noodle soup at Paik’s across the parking lot).
A hungrier situation, however, calls for the exceptional Goyi Crepe ($6.95), a winning variation on traditional dulce de leche. Inside this huge, thin wheat pancake, tart poached apple slices are huddled together like wild horses under a canopy. Then squiggles of house-made dulce de leche – bronzed, buttery, and so rich as to be nearly chewy – are poured across the top, then themselves blanketed with finely chopped walnuts. Finally, a stroke of brilliance is applied: a swirl of whipped cream placed not on the crepe itself, but on the plate’s edge – you know, in case of emergencies. Such finesse appears to be standard at Crepissima only four months since its opening. To me, it proves that even a nascent business can strive for specialness with a limited budget and little-to-no fanfare. We in Santa Clarita Valley would benefit from more businesses that take pains to differentiate themselves from their neighbors in both quality and cost.